Bad Beginning: Slow start dooms Lady Titans in regular-season finale

McDowell's Dezi Williams drives during Friday's loss to Freedom.

 The second, third and fourth quarters were solid ones for the McDowell Lady Titans. The first was an unmitigated disaster.

McDowell (10-4 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, 16-8 overall) fell behind the conference champion Freedom Lady Patriots 19-2 after one awful quarter in a 51-35 loss in the regular-season finale Friday night at Titan Gym.

McDowell outscored Freedom (14-0, 23-1) – the state’s second-ranked 3A team – by one point over the final three periods, but never got within single digits after the Lady Patriots’ initial 12-0 surge to start the game.

“The first quarter killed us,” said Lady Titans head coach Jennifer Kinninger. “We made 12 turnovers in the first quarter, and they shot very well in that first quarter on top of us turning the ball over. It was kind of like a perfect storm.

“I didn’t feel like we played very tough coming out of the gates, even though we talked about that.”

Freedom’s Blaikley Crooks scored seven of her game-high 21 points in the opening period, and the Lady Pats buried four 3-pointers in the quarter and shot 60 percent (6-of-10) from the floor. The Lady Titans didn’t score until Naliyah Boyce’s basket at the 3-minute mark, and by then, it was already too late.

Freedom led 31-14 at halftime after a 12-12 second quarter. McDowell won the third period 12-9 and finished with a 21-20 edge in the second half.

“I’m really proud of how the girls responded in the second half,” said Kinninger. “We could very easily have just backed down and went with it, but instead, they had a lot of heart and they battled and played tough and we did some good things down the stretch and we were able to win the half.

“We talked in the locker room at halftime about what kind of team are you? Are you going to come out and respond the way I know you can play or are you going to back down?”

McDowell certainly didn’t quit, and had chances to make some noise late. The Lady Titans had the ball down 12 early in the fourth quarter, but they turned it over and Crooks scored on a driving layup at the other end for a 42-28 lead.

McDowell pulled as close as 11 at 46-35 with 2:47 to play, but could get no closer.

Makenna Parkins (2 steals) led the Lady Titans with nine points and nine rebounds. Dezi Williams (6 rebounds, 2 steals) tossed in eight.

But McDowell’s usually potent offensive weapons – strong drives to the basket and offensive rebounding – largely abandoned them against Freedom’s defense. The Lady Pats out-rebounded McDowell 35-29 overall and 14-8 offensively. The Lady Titans also turned it over 24 times, and Freedom ended up with 15 more field goal attempts than McDowell.

Madison Bailey scored 12 for Freedom to join Crooks in double figures. No one else scored more than five for the Lady Patriots.

Next up for the Lady Titans is the NWC tournament, which begins Tuesday. McDowell finished in a three-way tie for second place along with Hickory and Watauga. All three clubs split with each other and were swept by Freedom, so a drawing took place at the conference meeting Saturday to determine the second, third and fourth seeds for the tournament. The Lady Titans will host a first-round game Tuesday against an opponent that had not been determined at press time. The semifinals and finals are set for next Thursday and Friday at Hickory High. McDowell had already qualified for the State 4A Playoffs for the 35th consecutive season.

Seniors Williams, Zoe Miller, Candace Cooper and Makaylah Chandler played their final regular-season game at Titan Gym.

“Those seniors have done so much for our program and have given so much of their time and sacrificed for our program and I’m very proud of all of them,” said Kinninger. “Three of them have been with me for three or four years, and just that time commitment says so much about them and what they’ve done for our Lady Titan program.”

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